The Established, Old, and Still Rich call them “Desconocidos.”  They have waxed spectacularly rich in a short period of time and overnight have appropriated all the visible trappings of wealth.  Their numbers are increasing, proving that Not Everyone is Poor in Third [ or Fourth, or Fifth? ] World Philippines…

An industrious couple — no longer considered “desconocidos” for years now — effortlessly entered the ranks of society with their discreet but formidable arms and ammunitions business.  The wife became the favorite client of the most important Manila jewelers because of her penchant for large, truly large, diamonds of high quality. 

Not really a “desconocido” but with an immense, relatively rapidly accumulated fortune during the 1990s [ but having its seed in the 1970s and consistent growth in the 1980s ] is a lawyer businessman who started his professional life as an assistant to the all-powerful Defense Secretary of the 21-year Marcos regime.  His first big breaks in the 1980s were the syndications of big contracts between big local companies.  Then came the influx of Southeast Asian investments into the Philippines, of which he was a major organizer and negotiator.  His personal fortune hit a record high of USD $ 600 million at its height.  Then he lost some USD $ 250 million with Argentinian bonds.  But still…!!!          

There is currently a Mining Boom, brought about by China’s insatiable demand for all kinds of metals.  It has certainly brought a wave of unimagined prosperity to a whole group of hitherto “desconocidos.”  From the mines of Mindanao to Luzon, Filipino “nouveaux riches” with fantastic fortunes from mining have been created.  To underscore their newfound prosperity and power, they have been establishing bases in Manila in the most expensive residential enclaves, paying top dollar for prestigious expanses of land.  Their families are among the best clients of the city’s most expensive foreign boutiques, that is, when they are not abroad vacationing. 

A most interesting “desconocido” is a secondary gambling lord in Central Luzon.  “No read, no write.”  How he managed to rise through the ranks to almost trump his boss, The Ultimate Lord, is anyone’s guess.  He has accumulated a fortune in the Php billions through the usually derided numbers game.  He built an immense Corinthian Gardens-style mansion, complete with helipad, on one hectare of gardens on the outskirts of the provincial capital.  His wife spends her days attended by a retinue of staff, expensively tutored by mentors in the art of living, selecting jewelry from the Manila jewelers that visit the mansion daily, and choosing expensive furniture, Persian rugs, and European decorative accessories from the decorators and interior designers that also call at the mansion daily.  He has managed to parlay his large fortune into legitimate, lucrative businesses like hospitals, hotels, and resorts.  However, he has a philanthropic streak and is particularly supportive of priests, nuns, students, and sick people.   

One very respectable “desconocido” — with a completely legitimate fortune — started out in life as a poor relation to an affluent, landed, “Old Rich” Central Luzon family, hence the patrician family name.  In the ultimate dream rags-to-riches story, he migrated to the USA in the 1970s and worked the usual 9-5 jobs.  He was very focused:  he succeeded in accumulating working capital and in establishing a network of business connections.  In the 1990s, He was the only businessman awarded by the US Government the first gambling concession in that progressive western state.  And the rest is history.  His was a triumphal return to the Philippines and to his Central Luzon hometown.  He built a contemporary mansion, complete with helipad, right smack in the new center of his hometown that dwarfed his originally more affluent relatives’ ancestral house where he grew up.  His name is associated with Philanthropy, Philanthropy, and Philanthropy.  

The most spectacular “desconocido,” bar none, is of course my personal favorite [ as well as a personal acquaintance ], “Eminence Gris.”  In the relatively short span of 10 years [ 1986 – 1996 ] in the USA, he accumulated an unimaginable fortune [ especially to Filipinos! ] in the single USD $ billion range.  The immense fortune was supposed to have been made from a virtual monopoly of computers and other high-tech gadgets sales in several “Banana Republic” Latin American countries from a Miami, Florida base.  That, and other businesses as well.  During the heyday of his power-mongering days during the Estrada administration [ 1998 – 2001 ], he was doubtless the most powerful man in the Philippines.   

I like them.  I certainly would like to be one of them.  All that Shopping Money!!!  Hahahah!!!   😛   😛   😛



“Sitio de los Ladrones”

“In all my years here, I have never seen the neighborhood change this way!!!” complained a grand real estate heiress. 

“All these ‘desconocidos’…  Who are all these people???”  asked another grand lady.

“Oh yes, this place is fast becoming ‘Sitio de los Ladrones’!!!”  observed another affluent lady.

Once the city’s premiere enclave… gradually invaded, with alarming frequency, by insurgent new wealth, with many of the origins unknown.  The longtime residents are wary, and many of them have simply sold off — delighted at the high prices the arrivistes are willing to pay — and transferred elsewhere. 




Prank Calls

I don’t like receiving or making phone calls because — being obsessive-compulsive and manic-depressive — just remembering the millions of microbes on the phones makes me cringe and faint [ no matter how the staff swabs these with disinfectant morning and evening ]. 

I don’t carry cellphones because I have already lost four, although I have to get two soon — one low-end and one high-end — because my friends and business associates are already freaking out.

To add to my misery, I receive several phone calls from credit card and financing companies trying to sell me a credit card or some financial instrument that will only add more complexity to my already overloaded life.

After a series of such time-wasting calls, I decided to waste even more time and “turn the tables” on them… 

I pretended to ask for a date from the woman.

I pretended to ask for a date from the man.

I pretended to be lovesick and asked for advice.

But the best time was when I was having one of those spectacularly rotten mornings and one of them called, yet again…

The secretary handed me the phone:  “Mr. Augusto Gonzalez.  From Nina.”

“Mr. Augusto Gonzalez?  This is Nina from blahblahblah Banking Corporation.  I would like to offer…”

*switches to “bitch mode”*

*switches to screeching voice*

“Hindi si ‘Augusto Gonzalez’ ito.  Ito ang asawa niya.  Ah!!!  Kilala na kita…  ikaw yung pinakabagong kabit niya!!!  Yung galing sa ‘Pegasus’!!!  Ikaw nga, ikaw nga!!!  Hayup kang babae ka, patawag tawag ka pa rito… nanggugulo ka ng pamilya ng may pamilya!!! Teka, magkano ba ang kailangan mo para layuin ang asawa ko, ha???  Kaya naman kitang bayaran ah… mas mayaman ako kaysa sa lecheng asawa kong iyan!!!  Hoy, tandaan mo ito babae, pag nahanap kita, isang bala ka lang!!!”  [ “This is not ‘Augusto Gonzalez.’  This is his wife.  Ah!!!  I know who you are… you’re his latest mistress!!!  The one from ‘Pegasus’!!!  You’re the one, you’re the one alright!!!  You animal, having the nerve to call here… you’re disturbing this family!!!  Wait, how much will it cost for you to leave my husband, huh???  I can pay you off.. I’m richer than that as*hole husband of mine!!!  Hey, remember this, woman, when I find you, you’re only worth one bullet!!!” ] 

The woman was so stunned all she could say was “Hindi po!!!  Hindi po!!!  Hindi po!!!” 


Beware of calling for “Mr. Augusto Gonzalez” offering him credit cards, bank loans, or whathaveyou.   You’re in for a spectacular surprise…   😛   😛   😛

[ Of course this post is “politically / socially incorrect.”  But why did I write it???  BECAUSE I CAN.  😛 ]








Another classic, comic Capampangan story as told by a dear friend at a dinner party last night…

The 80 year-old Capampangan Grandmother was in an upstairs bathroom and — characteristically enough of old people — she slipped.  She cried out:  “Eh-helf!!!  Eh-helf!!!  Eh-helf!!!”  [ FYI, in Capampangan pronunciation, there is an “h” where there is none, and no “h” where there is, “p” is pronounced as “f” and vice-versa, “v” is pronounced as “b” and vice-versa, and so forth and so on…  😛 ] 

Meanwhile, The 55 year-old Capampangan Son, already hard of hearing, was seated at the adjacent upstairs hall, totally absorbed watching the NBA games.

Hours later at nearly midnight, The Son felt the urge to pee so he went inside the adjacent bathroom and found his mother sprawled face down on the floor, seemingly unconscious.  He cried out:  “Mama!!!  Mama!!!  What happened to you???!!!”  as he cradled his mother’s head.  She opened her eyes, grabbed the toilet brush, and repeatedly poked it on her son’s head.  “I’ve been here for hours crying out for help and nobody came to help me so I just went to sleep!!!”  she complained.       

“Well, what were you crying out???”  The Son asked.

I was shouting:  “Eh-helf!!!  Eh-helf!!!  Eh-helf!!!”  The Grandmother replied irascibly.

“Well, why did you have to scream in English???  Why didn’t you just change to the Tagalog / Capampangan ‘Saklolo!!!’ if nobody was responding???  At least it sounds more urgent!!!”  reasoned The Son incredulously.

The Grandmother threw the electric fan at her Son.

Hahahah!!!  Just plain ol’ nostalgia…   😛

The Story becomes more vivid when one is told that it happened in the early 1980s but in a late 1940s mansion by Architect Juan Nakpil in the Santa Mesa Heights development of the Gregorio Araneta family.  The elegant residence was set in a pretty garden of 5,000 m2; the house was decorated by Rosario “Charing” Luz;  the furniture was by Gonzalo Puyat and Sisenando Baluyut; the brass-and-glass chandeliers were from Spain; the household items were from “Aguinaldo’s,” “Oceanic,” “Rustan’s,” “ShoeMart,” and “Sin Kian Heng” along Echague in Quiapo;  and the residents, the household staff, the food, and the “a-t-t-i-t-u-d-e” were totally Capampangan.  There was always a pile of food for Everyone — local and imported fruits in season, cakes, biscuits, cookies, candies, chocolates, Chinese goodies like “hopia,” “ampao,” “pilipit,” “champoy” / “kiamoy,” “Haw” flakes, etc. — on the dining table, the sideboard, the breakfast table, and the kitchen table; the refrigerators and freezers were bursting with food.  And because it was already the early 1980s, The Grandmother was a fan of the soap operas “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” and “Falcon Crest” and was an avid reader of “People” and “National Enquirer” magazines; she always felt as glamorous as “Alexis Carrington-Colby-Dexter” [ played by Joan Collins ] in “Dynasty” and she also insisted that her late “muy guapo” husband looked exactly like “Blake Carrington” [ played by John Forsythe ] when, in fact, he looked like “Pugo” the comedian.  And The Son, although married and with children, was an avid reader of “Playboy,” “Penthouse,” “Hustler,” and “Car & Driver” magazines as well as a drooling fan of “Seka” Triple-XXX pornographic movies for which he bought himself a Sony “Betamax” [ then only for the rich at a princely Php 5,000.00/xx  😛 ].  And The Family’s “Biggest Thing” [ a lingering carryover from the “Martial Law” import-restricted days ] was to go to Angeles and Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga to buy their “PX” goods!!!

Those funny and not-at-all funny days before Ninoy Aquino’s assassination on 21 August 1983 changed Everything…     


Having it All… Today!

[ OK, for those of you who are “tired” of reading about the “Traditional Elite” and “Old Manila,” here is one about a Manila family who is richer-than-rich NOW, TODAY, 2008.  Everything about them is new, new, new, and chic, chic, chic.  If this doesn’t “satisfy” you, I don’t know what will. ]  

“Dad always knew he would make it.  But it was a long hard climb.”

We sat there in the “lanai” overlooking the vast front garden and the vast back garden of their new, contemporary residence set amidst +- 10,000 m2 in one of the city’s most exclusive enclaves.  As with all Great Wealth, Everything had the air of Consummate Ease.  And Sheer Expense.  Even the plants, the grass, and the stones looked expensive.  A Japanese firm had been summoned to design and execute the fantastic garden.

The dining room had a frankly new “narra” dining table for 24 persons [ the top was 42 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 6 inches thick ], courtesy of the Dad’s lumber magnate friend in Surigao and the Dad’s general friend who facilitated its DENR-free and hassle-free transport to Manila.  The entire dining suite was Neoclassical in style.  Over the dining table hung three rare Art Deco lamps of Lalique glass, acquired last year in Paris.  On the French Art Deco sideboard was a stylish Art Deco coffee service by Puiforcat, acquired for an unimaginable sum in Paris.  The room was hung with four large 1930s Fernando Amorsolos and four large 1950s Vicente Manansalas [ certified as originals by the authorities ], artistic trophies purchased from the unraveling estates of various Marcos crony friends.

The large “kitchen” actually looked like a living room and  was a serious chef / restaurateur’s dream:  The refrigerators were “SubZero,” the ovens “La Cornue.”  The kitchen cabinetry had been ordered in Germany.  Most of the kitchen’s accessories were Italian, “Alessi.”  One side of the kitchen was a casual living area with a large plasma TV and contemporary Italian furniture.  Two large and important BenCab canvases casually hung in the kitchen’s living area, underscoring the wealth of the owners.   

He took me to what he referred to as the “garage” at the far end of the property.  It looked more like a chic loft at Rockwell instead of a garage.  It was airconditioned and humidity-controlled; the lights were LED.  There was a carpeted lounge, a bar, and men’s and ladies’ washrooms.  Inside were parked some 100 cars, some luxury sedans, several sports cars, some SUVs.  Several valets and mechanics were at work polishing and maintaining the cars.  It was a scene guaranteed to get any man’s testosterone going.